Thursday, 8 January 2015

My motorbike and I


Chúc mừng năm mới!

Hello from my new apartment! Not completely sure how I feel about it – it's lovely having so much space but simultaneously everything is quite... ancient. 

Just ate some of the foulest things ever. Well, the first one was fine, but I made the stupid decision of having a second one. It's like this savoury sweet pastry/bread thing with sickly sweet dragonfruit/durian/jackfruit/some funky exotic fruit I still don't recognise muck in it, with an egg yolk in the middle. Truly.

Anyhoos, we'll stop thinking about that.

I bought a bike. Not the one I was telling you about last entry, which would've been rented as well as an automatic. No, I now OWN a bike which is a semi-automatic, in other words manual(ish), in other words has gears. A Honda Wave. His name is Tài and he is wonderful. <3
Say hello to Tài
I realised that I have taken yet another step towards localdom. Did you know that the Honda Wave is pronounced 'Honda Way'? Well now you do. In the same way as rice is 'ri', nice is 'ni', and province is 'rovvin'. And, not using the same logic though, Alex is 'Alice' while most of Vietnam's favourite singer's name is 'Taylor Wist'.

Anyways, getting the bike. When I first got to Vietnam, never did I even vaguely consider getting a bike. Lol, suicide on a plate, right? Not to mention what my beloved mumsie would say!

Within a few weeks, though, I realised how useful it would be to have a bike, and, well, I must say, how cool. After like five weeks in Vietnam I had decided for definite that I'll get a bike but, as many of you probably know, I'm not the best at making decisions. So, when my landlady, interpreted by her 13-year-old grandson (his English is phenomenal. It's crazy. He's better (at least pronounciationwise!) than most of my teen class.) said they want to “give”me  (later I found out it meant rent for 1million a month) a motorbike – that Nouvo I was telling about, I was well willing to try it out. We decided that I would practise driving it that evening after work. And that I did.

It was really cool, and a Nouvo is automatic and EASY. However, within the day I decided I want to look at a Honda Wave too. Waves consume a LOT less petrol, are better for long journeys, and are a lot lighter. Nouvos on the other hand are heavy, not ideal for long trips, and consume a LOT of petrol. But, they're cheaper and AUTOMATIC...

It was the eve of New Year's Eve, and the roads were packed. It was about seven in the evening so many second hand bike shops were closed. I was losing hope when suddenly Dung swerved onto the pavement in front of a bike shop which was still open. They were selling quite a few Waves – quite expensive, though, at least 12 million. I was very hesitant but also realised I really should get a move on, so I said I wanted to try them out.

So. How did it go. Well, I had driven a Wave before. My friend Mary has a Wave which I practised driving for about five minutes on an empty road. It had gone fine - I understood the gear changes etc and managed it quite well.

Well, apparently not. This time I practised the Waves, in the good old Vietnamese style, on the pavement, and I am very, very glad the people on the pavement did not trust me because brakes were the last thing on my mind when I tried to understand when to change onto third, how to change onto third, if I should stay on third, how to not have the bike die...

I felt like an idiot and so close to crying, but the very surprising and reassuring thing was that the five guys, two girls and Dung at the shop were not laughing at me (at least outwardly). I would've expected laughs – silly foreign expat with the ludicrous ambition of driving a semi-automatic motorbike, HA. But no, they just patiently ran next to me, shouting “three!” or “four!” depending on which gear I should be on, patiently moving the motorbike for me whenever I got into a sticky / confused spot.

Essentially, in Vietnam you are much more... 'weird' by being a westerner walking on the streets than a westerner wobbling on a motorbike. It's like... say, back in any European country, let's say the UK: If there's an unsure foreign driver, driving not completely perfectly in a normal car, it will attract less attention than a foreigner driving a three-wheeled spaceship, even if the foreigner knew how to drive it perfectly. (Yes yes, maybe not the best example, but hopefully you get the point. Ish.)

Anyways, after three attempts on the Waves I decided (with the help of Dung) which one I wanted. Now all I needed was 13 million dong. You cannot pay money with my Vietnamese card, you can just get money out with it. And only from a branch of my bank. Just to make sure things don't get too simple. No worries, one of the sales guys will take me to a cashpoint, they assured me. Well, first sales guy circled around with me on the back for about ten minutes without succeeding, so he brought me back to the shop and second sales guy took me onto another motorbike and went looking for it again. (And all this while I was making Dung later and later for her dinner date...) 

We passed many ATMs, all looking empty and inviting but unfortunately not the correct ones. Finally we found Vietcombank – there were even two of them next to each other! - but, ironically, both with a queue of around seven people.

Ok, so join queue I guess...

The next issue to tackle was calculating the likelihoods of how much money the ATM would decide to give me. I knew some ATMs had the limit of 2 million at a time. I knew some could give more at one go. So, would the likelihood of it giving me more than 2 million be worth the attempt? Yes, I guess it was. I found out it does give me 5 million, but refused 7 million. But even then, I felt very sorry for the people waiting behind me, me just constantly taking out my money and card and putting it back in again.

(But then again, that's apparently what the Vietnamese do anyways. What I've heard is that people don't really trust banks, so especially on pay day you'll have queues and queues of people at the ATMs emptying their bank accounts.)

Anyways, finally got my 13 million, got back to the bike place, and, well, bought my bike. I followed Dung back on a nicely uneventful journey, and thus I became the proud owner of a Honda Way! <3

My first day as a Honda Way owner was also my first day as a Honda Way bust tire owner. I left to go explore the next morning, and didn't get far when I felt a funny bumpiness in the back tire getting progressively worse. I tried ignoring it for a while (my main strategy whenever there seems to be a problem, sometimes works better than other times), but then decided this is not a problem to be ignored, and sensibly drove back to my hotel.

Luckily my interpreter / translator / friend, the grandson of my landlady, was outside with his uncle, and within minutes I was pushing my bike down the roads alongside this boy. His uncle drove ahead somewhere and me and him had a very nice little chat.
He led me to a place that apparently fixed tires (I had gone past that place many a time and the only thing I noted about it was that it sold like a dozen different types of uncooked rice, but apparently you get your tires fixed as a side-service) – I pushed it the whole fifteen minutes, was a good arm workout even taking in account it was the 'light' bike! Sat around for another fifteen minutes while the little man at the ri(ce) shop found the hole in my tire by putting it in water, fixed it with some sort of something and spray and got his payment of 15,000 (40p).
After that, I got to experience my First Passenger. This young boy, helmetless, on the back of my bike on my first proper day as a bike owner. Ok, now is not the time to learn from mistakes...

I am proud and happy to say I managed to transfer my First Passenger from point A to point B without either of us sustaining any sort of head injury or life trauma. :)

Since then, I've been driving a little bit per day with nothing too eventful happening. I've nearly run over three security guards (I got mixed up with acceleration and braking while entering the car park), I've successfully had my oil changed (BY MYSELF) (or as in, I sorted it out myself, the little men did the actual deed for me). This was driving through the more busy bit of town (though, 'busy' in BH means 'very empty' if you compare to Saigon traffic...) with incidents like them Coffins On Wheels (COWs, lol, lol) coming up behind you beeping them doomsday beep, or with being stuck in the middle of the road, dreaming of crossing it, with a truck coming up behind you and taxis coming towards you the other way...
Funky 'motorbike' at oil-changing place
It's all exciting. It's not too scary either – you're just navigating a road, as you are on a bicycle or car back home. The logic is different but, hey, the country is different. It's a bit of a kid mentality here – everything is logical but in a bit of a childlike way. Like, if you're in the middle of the road and someone turns from the left onto your road, taking a bit of a long turn so they are actually on your right, heading towards you, the more logical thing is to keep where you are and pass them, 'illegally', on their left.
Dodging trains

I cannot wait for my first trip to Saigon. Just the FREEDOM of having a motorbike... Yes I know I critisized bumbness from my last motorbike trip to Saigon. But, well, I change my mind don't I. :P Fingers crossed it goes fine... except NOT fingers crossed, since that is considered an obsene gesture here. (Unlike doing the V-sign with your two fingers... that, here, is as friendly a gesture as doing the peace-sign. So, if you ever come to Vietnam do not get too offended when your students obscene gesture you.)

EMZY (&Tài)



  1. Your picture of your bike tyre (or ‘tire’ if you’re American) being repaired, has answered one question for me: I’ve noticed you don’t have a front number plate, but you do seem to have a back one. Do you need any kind of licence to ride a motorbike? Ride it carefully!

  2. Meni aikaa, ennen kuin "uskaltauduin" lukevaan tämän Tai-juttusi... Mitäs Tài muuten tarkoittaa? Kyllä sinä saat aikaan ja pärjäät! Mummokin sanoi, että on se Emma-Liisa rohkea tyttö. :) Turvallisia matkoja. Voiko niitä keskellä tietä ajamisia millään välttää? Eipä kai. Olet mielessämme. <3